On her majesty’s service

It’s been almost 40 years since I met British diplomat Gordon Pirie and his wife, Maria, at the coffee shop at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran.

Iranian militants had just taken American diplomats hostage in what would be become an ordeal of 444 days.

As a reporter for Newsweek, I was trying to figure out what was going on. Gordon provided me with important insights into what was happening.

Unbeknownst to me and the rest of the world until two decades later, Gordon played an important role in saving a number of American hostages who had managed to escape the takeover of the U.S. embassy.

The Times of London provided an account of his derring-do to correct the errors of Argo, a 2013 movie about the hostage crisis that gained critical acclaim but had little to do with the facts.

Gordon and a colleague, Martin Williams, learned that the diplomats had holed up in the southeast part of Tehran.

The two men drove around and made contact with five fugitive diplomats. A sixth found his way to the Swedish embassy and joined them in hiding 10 days later.

Gordon and Williams were meant to take the Americans back to the British embassy, but as it was occupied, that was out of the question. They decided to go instead to Williams’s home in the British compound in the northern suburbs.

The Americans’ relief was palpable when they made it to the relative safety of the compound, where Maria, who is Italian, cooked up pasta.

Eventually, the Americans went to the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and were spirited out of the country on January 28, 1980, bluffing their way through passport control at the airport in Tehran as Canadians from a film crew created by the CIA for their escape.

Just as the CIA’s role in springing the Americans was not declassified until 1997, so the British decided to keep quiet fear of further inflaming relations with the Iranian regime.

Over the years, my wife Elizabeth and I spent many hours with the Piries, who moved across the street from us in Beirut and down the street from us in Rome.

We often regaled one another with memories of how Gordon, who was fluent in Farsi and several other languages, helped us bargain with Persian carpet sellers to get the best price possible.

In Rome, our apartment looked into the love nest of the Italian finance minister, who brought numerous young ladies there for his extramarital affairs. We’d turned off the lights and peered from behind the curtains to see what new woman he’d decided to wine and dine. We justified our Peeping-Tom approach as research into Italian politics!

Last year, Gordon, who was in his 80s, ran into the inevitable problems of getting older. I was able to visit him, and it was as if we hadn’t spent a day apart from one another.

Sadly, Gordon died a few weeks ago. He was a tribute to his work as a diplomat throughout the world. More important for me, he was a dear friend who will sorely missed.

Remember When Europeans Hit the British Empire…

…that peoples once under seem to have more respect for it than the academics who critique it:

of all the dramatic photos showing hundreds of young protesters storming the city’s legislative building this week, one image makes for particularly uncomfortable viewing in Beijing: The British colonial flag draped aloft a podium in the assembly’s chamber.

That’s not all. On a day supposed to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the “motherland,” other protesters were pictured defiantly flying giant Union flags in the Legislative Council.

Why are some protesters — many of them millennials — harking back to a bygone colonial era, two decades after Britain handed the city over to China as a semi-autonomous territory?

“Does it really mean that people seriously want colonial rule again? No — but I don’t think there’s any dispute among protesters that British rule was better than what we’ve got after the handover, especially in recent years,” said Lam Yin Pong, a Hong Kong journalist.

Furthermore this is not a phenom confined to Hong Kong:

“If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we’d do it,” said Solomon Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his village. “Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job.”

Mr. Dube acknowledged that the white regime of Ian Smith was awful. But now he worries that his 3-year-old son will die of starvation, and he would rather put up with any indignity than witness that.

An elderly peasant in another village, Makupila Muzamba, said that hunger today is worse than ever before in his seven decades or so, and said: “I want the white man’s government to come back. Even if whites were oppressing us, we could get jobs and things were cheap compared to today.”

His wife, Mugombo Mudenda, remembered that as a younger woman she used to eat meat, drink tea, use sugar and buy soap. But now she cannot even afford corn gruel. “I miss the days of white rule,” she said.

Nearly every peasant I’ve spoken to in Zimbabwe echoed those thoughts.

That’s from that well known bastion of white supremacy the New York Times.

As a rule countries that emulated British common law and their system of rights that came with it have prospered (think India) but for those who have not the Greatest argument for the British Empire has been what has replaced it worldwide.